What do you do when you see someone being denigrated? This Tedx Talk personalizes what it really means to be an Everyday Ally.
NINA: My name is Nina G., and I am America’s only female, stuttering standup comedian. You can clap for that! Yeah! That’s impressive.
I’m part of a comedy troupe called The Comedians with Disabilities Act. So it’s me, a guy who uses a wheelchair, another guy who’s blind, and another guy who’s a Little Person. People come up to me all the time, and they say, “You know, stuttering isn’t a real disability. You shouldn’t be in that show!” So I explain to them that if you look at the definition of what a disability is, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a physical or mental impairment that substantially results in having to deal with jerks.
Thank you, thank you.
You can clap for that. Thank you. So I’m pretty sure it qualifies,
And I have a jokey joke that you can tell at the office or to your children. Most of my jokes you can’t, but this is the one you can. So I need your help on this one. How many disabled people does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Thank you! They were plants!
One to screw it in, and five able-bodied people to say, “You are such an inspiration!”
Thank you, yes.
For more on why calling a person with a disability an inspiration isn’t OK, go check out Stella Young’s TED talk, because it’s totally awesome. It will explain all of that. So a lot of my standup comedy is about microaggressions that I experience in the world. According to Derald Wing Sue–and I wanted to get this right. So I’m going to read it. According to Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of group membership.” Now, microaggressions occur for all minority groups, but some examples in my own life as a person with a disability, specifically a person who stutters, includes some of the following.
Let’s see. Sometimes, in the midst of a stutter, someone will do this. You know, like, “Hurry it up.” Because this helps me! This is good.
This, and telling me to spit it out. All very helpful things.
And it was like this one time, I was with one of my friends, and then his friend walked up. I introduced myself, and I stuttered just a tiny bit on my name. This guy says, “Is that Nina with 5 Ns?”
Yeah, I know. So I said, “Well, first of all, I stutter. Second of all, that’s Nina with 2 Ns,” and I flipped him off on both hands.
Which I thought was pretty good because a lot of times, in the midst of a microaggression, you don’t always know how to react. And you always go back, “Oh, I should’ve done this or that.” I got it right the first time. Although, I am exaggerating a bit because I actually said, “That’s Nina with 1 N,” because I also have dyslexia and forget I had 2 Ns in my name.
So there’s that too.
As wonderful as microaggressions are for my standup comedy, they’re not that great for my psychological and my emotional wellbeing because they take a lot of work. They take a lot of psychological work to think, “Was that interaction weird? Should I have done this? Should I have done that?”
I think that as a society, we can move toward being allies. That is becoming more than just being aware, but participating in a world and making a world where microaggressions, if you see something happen, then you do something. So I really want to challenge you to be an everyday ally. A lot of times when we think about allies, we think about people who are protesting, and they are going and they’re marching, and they’re donating money. But really, what I want to talk about is how to be an ally in your everyday life. Luckily, I have had people in my life who have been my ally, who I’ve learned from. I have many stories about that, but I wanted to share two with you this evening. The first one–
Oh, and one thing that I do want to say about being an ally to the disabled community is that you want to involve us. There is a saying in the disability community, which is “Nothing about us, without us.” Disabled people aren’t here for your service hours. We’re not here just to fulfill your need to feel like you’re helpful. We want to be in the conversation. So that is something that I wanted to make sure was clear.
One of the stories that I wanted to share was about my former boss, Ned. Now, Ned and I worked for a program that was being evaluated by an outside consultant. The outside consultant came in, and we had a meeting with 20 of the staff. Each of the staff had to say their name and what they did there at the job. The outside consultant was someone who didn’t know me, didn’t know about my disability and how I identified. I can do a TED talk totally fine because I feel in control here. And that kind of situation, where I have to say two or three sentences, where I don’t disclose, I don’t feel in control because I don’t know what kind of assumptions that person’s going to make about me.
When she came to me, and I talked, she got the look. And if you stutter, you know what the look is. There’s a couple of looks. One is the…oh poor thing look. We get that oftentimes. It doesn’t really help us to communicate well when you look that way. So don’t. And then, the other look was this look of like…what’s going on here? What is this? I have a name for this look that I can’t say in a TED talk.
But I think you get the idea.
Afterwards, I was debriefing with my boss, and he asked me how I thought that it went. I said, “She looked at me weird.” Now, a lot of times when someone says that they “looked at me weird,” we’re like, “Oh! I’m sure it’s fine, that it’s all in your head!” Ned didn’t do that. He said, “I saw that, and I wondered about that too.” So he had validated me.
When you experience a microaggression, especially as a person with a disability, and for me, people who stutter are less than 1% of the population. So a lot of times, when I experience a microaggression, it’s in isolation, that I don’t necessarily have a community that can hold me in the immediate time. Luckily, I have made those connections. But it’s not something that necessarily comes automatically. So for him to validate me was such an important thing.
The next thing he did was just amazing! He said, “Did you want me to say anything?” Now, for me, that was really amazing because he was going to use his power and his privilege to do something. That he saw something that was unjust, and he saw that I was uncomfortable. So he was willing to use his power and his privilege to do something about it.
Also, what he did was he asked if it was OK. I know for myself, sometimes when I’m being an ally, I get into it a lot. Sometimes, I can make it about me, and it’s important to know that when you are being an ally, that it’s not about you, and to really involve the individual that you’re being an ally for or the community, in that conversation.
The next story that I wanted to share is about an ally from a very unlikely source. The unlikely source came in the form of an 8th grade boy. Now, when I was in the 7th grade, I ran for student body government, and I won. I went to a school that took themselves way too seriously, and we had this big inauguration. In the inauguration, all of the student body government people had to be sworn in. At the rehearsal, what I learned was that I had to stand in front of the entire school, 1st through the 8th grade. It was a Catholic school. So it was in front of the teachers, the nuns, the priests. Even the town newspaper was there. I had to stand in front of everybody and say, “I insert name here.”
Now, when you stutter, “I insert name here” is one of the most anxiety-provoking things that you could possibly say because so many of us stutter on our name. . And there’s also no way to substitute that. As I left the rehearsal–Oh, and the others kids in the rehearsal started to laugh when I stuttered on my name.
But as I left, it’s this one 8th grade boy ran after me, and he said, “Can you say ninja?” And I was like, “Um, I guess so?” He said, “Well, just switch it around and say Nina instead.” And I’m all, “Thank you?” Cuz there’s this weird thing when you have a disability, suddenly everybody has a PhD in the thing you have. I get advice all the time like, “Just slow down and breathe.”
You know, in the 30 years I’ve been stuttering, I have never thought about that.
And I guess I haven’t been breathing this entire time.
But this 8th grade boy was trying to help, and he was the one ally that I had in that situation. Plus, he was kinda cute. So he got a pass.
That entire week before the inauguration came, I practiced my name in front of the mirror. I practiced it with my parents. I practiced it at my speech therapist’s office. When the day came, I went in front of the entire school, and I said, “I, N-n-n-Nina G.” And in my 7th grade girl mind, I thought that my life was completely offer. I thought I would have to change schools, move cities, the entire thing.
Later on that day, I went to recess, just expecting a sea of kids to make fun of me. I was talking to that same 8th grade boy, the ninja kid, and that’s when a 3rd grade boy walked up. The 3rd grade boy said, “Hey, N-n-n-Nina.” Now, that’s something that I’ve heard my entire life. So it’s really not funny anymore. It’s sometimes funny if you do it to the Chia pets song. ♪”N-n-n-Nina,”♪ like that. That’s kinda funny, but even that gets old.
But this 8th grade boy did something that I had never experienced, is he gently knelt down so he could look the little boy in the eye and said, “If I ever hear you saying that to anybody, if I ever hear you saying that to her in the future, I’m going to tell everybody your pee-pee’s this big.”
And I was so touched. That was so nice.
I wasn’t made fun of the rest of the year. And also, I had a crush on that guy for the rest of the year too. I’ve looked for him on Facebook. I can’t find him. I’m thinking maybe some TED Talk action might happen now.
But I learned some very important things that day. One, is I learned I could stutter in front of people and live. That was a really important thing. The other thing I learned was that I had other people who had had my back. Because prior to that, I thought it was just me and my parents. But this 8th grade boy had showed me that other people had my back. Also, as a kid who was in school who had stuttered and had a learning disability, I didn’t always feel that I was part of the community at school. My teachers didn’t always make me feel like that. But this one 8th grade boy made me feel like I had a community, and my 7th grade was a little bit better because of him.
Also, what I learned that day is that if anybody ever makes fun of me, I just tell them they have a small pee-pee.
Thank you guys so much!